Sivut kuvina

who was thought to be insufficiently exerting himself. Another task to which they were set was “service in the field” (Exod. i. 14), probably “such as we still see along the banks of the Nile, where the peasants, naked, under the burning sun, work through the day like pieces of machinery in drawing up the buckets of water from the level of the river for the irrigation of the fields above." The service was made purposely harder than it need have been, since the object was to break down the people morally and physically, to exhaust their vital power by overwork, and so to shorten their lives. “The Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour ; and they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field : all their service wherein they made them serve, was with rigour" (Exod. i. 13, 14).

It was hoped that this over-work, this constant drudgery of toil, this deep" affliction," aggravated as it was by continual blows from the taskmasters, would have the effect, at any rate, of stopping any further increase in the numbers of the people, even if it failed to produce an actual reduction of their numbers. And this would have been the natural result, had Divine Providence not interfered, but allowed the ordinary laws which govern the ebb and flow of a population to have free course and work themselves out unchecked. But such was not the Divine will. God, who had promised Abraham that his seed should increase and multiply until it became as “the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore” (Gen. xxii. 17) for multitude, did not submit to have his purpose baffled by the machinations of human adversaries. By suspending the operation of the laws, or by counteracting it, he brought it to pass that the rate of increase which had hitherto prevailed in the Hebrew population of Egypt should rise rather than fall under the changed circumstances:

The more the Egyptians afflicted them, the more they multipliea and grew; and the Egyptians were grieved because of the people of Israel” (Exod. i. 12).

A despotic monarch does not readily allow his designs to be defeated and set aside. The Pharaoh who had thought to“ deal wisely” with the Hebrews, and had therefore devised the plan of crushing them and preventing them from multiplying by engaging them in continuous hard labour, finding his craft of no avail, had recourse to violence. Egypt possessed a guild of

* Stanley, “Lectures on the Jewish Church," vol. i. p. 85.


[ocr errors]

midwives, one portion of which was assigned the duty of minisa tering to the necessities of the Hebrew women in their confine. ments. Pharaoh issued secret orders to the two chief midwives, and through them to the others, that, when they performed their office, they should take care to destroy all the male children, and only suffer the female children to live. Infanticide was a ccnimon practice among many ancient nations, as the Romans, iiie Spartans, and others, but in Egypt it was accounted a crime; and though the Pharaoh was reckoned' a sort of divine being by his subjects, yet it was not felt that he could dispense with the laws of moral obligation. The midwives “feared God” (Exod. i.17) more than they feared the king, and, though professing a willingness to carry out his will, practically disobeyed his orders. The male children were spared by them, with the result that “the people multiplied” more than ever,

and waxed

very mighty” ( ver. 20). Then, at length, the king left off his attempts to “deal wisely," craftily, and secretly, with the difficult circumstances in which he considered himself to be placed ; he openly issued a proclamation to his subjects generally, requiring them to put to death the male Hebrew children by drowning them in the Nile (ver. 22). Perhaps he represented the cruel requirement as given by the command of the Nile-god, who needed to be propitiated by human sacrifices; perhaps he found some other mode of justifying himself. At any rate the order went forth, and was doubtless acted upon, though perhaps not very generally. The Egyptians had no quarrel with their Hebrew neighbours, and would not care to act as executioners ; but government officials would be employed to see the king's orders carried out, and no doubt for several years many thousands of innocent lives were sacrificed. Still, however, the king's purpose was not effected. Had the edict been rigorously enforced, the people would have been extinguished before the date of the Exodus. But it had then reached to a total of above two million souls (Exod. xii. 37). Either, therefore, the edict must have been revoked after a while, or it must gradually have sunk into oblivion. In one way or another God's will triumphed over man's, and the people, doomed to extinction by the highest human power which existed on earth at the time, was preserved by God's providence through all the perils which threatened it, to become, according to the promise given to Jacob (Gen. xxxv. 11), "a nation and a company of nations."




Moses' parents ; their position ; their place of abode-His sister, Miriam

His elder brother Aaron-Aaron's birth had not needed to be concealed Concealment of the birth of Moses-Plan to save him when further concealment was impossible - The plan skilfully carried out.


THE father of Moses is first introduced to us as “

a man of the house of Levi” (Exod. ii. 1). We are subsequently told that his name was Amram, and that he was of the family of the Kohathites, who were descended from Kohath, Levi's second son (Exod. vi. 16-20). He took to himself a wife of the same tribe, a woman named Jochebed, who was “his father's sister.” Such marriages were common among the Egyptians, and, not having been as yet forbidden by any positive enactment, seem to have been regarded as lawful by the Hebrews. The parents of Moses were persons in humble circumstances. No special dignity as yet attached to the Levites among the children of Israel, or to the Kohathites among the Levites; and the circumstances of the Hebrews since the death of Joseph had been such as rapidly to exhaust ancestral wealth, and bring the whole nation down to an almost dead level of uniformity. The writer of the Pentateuch enters into few details; but we gather from his narrative, that Amram's household was a simple and a modest one, where the main duties were discharged by the house-mother and the house-daughter, wbose appearance was such that they could, without impropriety, be asked to perform menial service and accept "wages ” (Exod. ii. 9).

The abode occupied by the modest household was in or near the capital city of the time, where the Court resided. The capital was situated on the Nile, or on one of its branches, and was most probably Memphis. Memphis occupied Learly the site on which now stands the great city of Cairo, one of the most salubrious residences and one of the most picturesque cities in the world. It was a lordly and magnificent town. Built, according to the tradition, by the most ancient of all the Egyptian kings, M'na or Menes, on the left or western bank of the river, which washed its eastern wall, and reflected in its waves temple, tower, and palace, tall obelisk, and huge colossus, and frowning gateway, the city of Menes was, as its name implied, “ a Good,” or “Pleasing Abode," a favourite residence of the monarchs, and, in the earlier years covered by the nineteenth dynasty, the place where the Court was commonly held. Its great pride and glory was the Temple of Phthah. Coeval with the city, founded, that is to say, by Menes, the Temple of Phthah, consisting of a grand central edifice, surrounded by pillared courts, and adorned by colossal statues, by pictured representations of the great deeds of kings, by sphinxes, inscriptions, tablets, perhaps by obelisks,stood up like a great cathedral, in the centre of the lordly town, the work of many kings and of many ages, telling a thrilling tale of bygone history to those who had skill to read the past in its architecture, or in its records. Here was the nucleus of the building, the cell or shrine of Phthah originally set up by Menes; there, towards the north, was the great portal erected by Amenemhat III., or Mæris; in front of the grand entrance were colossi attributed to Usurtasen III., the Greek Sesostris; all around were spread out the white arms of colonaded courts, the work of this or that Pharaoh. In other parts of the town were numerous • temples, erected to other deities. On the eastern edge of the city, washed on one side by the river, was the citadel, or “ White Castle," as the Greeks in after times called it, a strong fortress, girt with a lofty rampart made of the light yellow limestone which the neighbouring desert furnishes.

Opposite Memphis, towards the west, standing out in clear outline against the pale sky, was its vast and wonderful necio polis. Stretching north and south a distance of nearly twenty miles, but with its populous centre immediately behind Memphis, this strange “City of the Dead” confronted the living city, drawing the eye by the sharp points of its sixty pyramids' and especially challenging attention by those huge monuments of kingly vanity, which have never elsewhere been equalled, the works of monarchs anterior to Abraham, which defy time ta

* Stuart Poole “Cities of Egypt," p. 26

[ocr errors]


efface them. The household of Amram dwelt under the shadow of the three Great Pyramids. On the edge of the western horizon, as often as they lifted their eyes towards it, they would see those giant forms, those “ artificial mountains,” the most impressive monuments that have ever been raised by human hands, stupendous memorials of their builders' egotism, and of .he misery of the people by whom they were built.

Before the birth of Moses the family was one comprising four persons only, Amram, the paterfamilias, probably well advanced in years; whether handicraftsman, or field labourer, or otherwise employed, we cannot say, but a man at any rate of small account among those

among whom his lot was cast; Jochebed, his aunt and wife, the materfamilias, tender and loving house-mother; and two children, Miriam the elder, a grown-up girl, some fifteen or sixteen years of age, ci perhaps more, and Aaron, a boy, an infant not yet three years old. Miriam, the first of all the Marys of whom history tells, is a soft and pleasing figure in the narrative. Brightly she rises up before us as the “house-angel,” the mother's deft and ready help, the father's pride, gifted with precious gifts, as those of music and of song (Exod. xv. 20), yet quiet and domestic, content to keep her gifts hidden, and to do the common work of a common Hebrew household. Aaron was, we must conclude, born before the cruel edict of the reigning Pharaoh had been issued, so that his birth had not needed to be concealed ; his life had been spared by the God-fearing midwives; or his mother had been so strong and healthful that in the hour of her travail she had not required their care (Exod. i. 19). As the eldest son of the house he would have been its embryo priest, and would have been set apart, from the womb probably, with some form of consecration. He would also have been especially welcome, as the first man-child always was in a Hebrew household, as securing the continuance of the family in the male line, or, at any rate, giving a reasonable prospect of such continuance. We are told nothing of his appearance, but may presume that he too was, like his brother, “a goodly child”. Exod. ii. 2), of a physique that fitted him for the grand and lofty position which he afterwards occupied. He was as yet, however, but a boy, a happy, careless boy of three years' old, ignorant of the weight of responsibility that was about one day to fall upon him, the delight of the house probably, causing general cheerfulness by his chatter and his laughter.

« EdellinenJatka »